Recommendations: Adult Fantasy

I have seen a discussion floating around Twitter about that period between being a teenager and being an adult and the difficulty some people face in finding books that speak to them. I have talked about memoirs in this context before as I find that they are a brilliant way of finding books that talk about exactly these experiences. Rachel has also written a brilliant post recommending adult books for young adults, which you should absolutely check out. But today I want to recommend some Adult Fantasy – because there are so many great books in that section that people maybe ignore. I personally have been struggling with YA fantasy because the focus on love stories is just not something I am super interested in, and have been mostly reading adult fantasy.

I also have thoughts about whose books get classified as YA. Hint: Not those written by men. Coming-of-age stories are a staple in adult fantasy, be it Lord of the Rings or The Name of the Wind. But nobody calls these books YA. But when a young woman writes fantasy suddenly people insist on calling it YA. Case in point: R. F. Kuang’s The Poppy War, which is decidedly NOT YA and super gruesome in parts. The author received some weird backlash when she insisted that her book really, really, really is not YA and should be treated as such. So I would politely ask everybody to think about their assumptions when it comes to placing books in the YA section in their heads.

Urban Fantasy:

The Rivers of London Series by Ben Aaronovitch

9317452I love this series with all my heart. The main character is in his mid-twenties and working as a police man when he stumbles upon the supernatural underbelly of contemporary London. The books are hilarious and self-aware, the cast of characters is diverse and wonderfully drawn, and reading these books just makes me happy. The seventh book is due to come out this month and I cannot wait to hold it in my hands.

The Kate Daniels Series by Ilona Andrews

7940930I went through a ridiculous binge of these books earlier this year and only have the last book in the series left to read. Kate is a wonderful protagonist who I am always rooting for. She is in her early twenties when the series begins and working as a private investigator, trying to just live her life and not get emotionally involved with anybody. I have rarely been as invested in a relationship as I am in hers and Curran (even if he is a bit of an ass sometimes) and love the strong emphasis on friendship these books have at their core. I have also recently read another series by Ilona Andrews which I also whole-heartedly recommend.

High Fantasy:

The Broken Earth trilogy by N. K. Jemisin

19161852I adore this. I don’t even have all that many words to describe how utterly perfect I think this series is. N. K. Jemisin might be my all-time favourite author and I am dragging my feet to read the last of her series that I haven’t read yet because then I would have to wait for new books to appear. The first book is told from three perspectives following three women of different ages and their struggles. It grapples with growing up and family and racism and the end of the world. The themes of family at the core of this series really broke my heart.

The Divine Cities trilogy by Robert Jackson Bennett

25452717The protagonists of this series are on the older end – and I absolutely loved this. They still are looking for their place in the world and they try to be good people (and sometimes fail at this).The characters rebel against their families’ expectations in a way that I found highly relatable. Bennett’s language is assured, his characterization on point, and his world-building intricate.

Standalones:

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

27313170Sitting just at the edge between fantasy and science fiction, this is basically a coming-of-age story, focussing on the friendship between a witch and a scientist. There are strong themes of family and friendship, on doing the right thing as opposed to the easy thing, and of identity and self. The characters in this book are different and wonderful. Anders’ imagination is dazzling and I cannot wait for her new book coming out in January 2019.

Reincarnation Blues by Michael Poore

33571217Milo is an old soul, literally – he has lived 9995 lives so far and has yet to achieve perfection. In fact he isn’t even sure he wants to achieve perfection as he is in love with Death (or rather a Death – Suzie). This has to change when he is informed that every soul has in fact only 10000 lives to get it right or it will be erased. This a book, at its core, about finding your place in the world and about being the best person you can be. And I can think of few things more relevant to me.

What are your favourite adult fantasy novels that might be interesting to people trying to find their way into the genre?

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Review: Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

35702180Verdict: Holy cliffhanger

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Published by HarperVoyager UK, 2017

Find it on Goodreads.

I was born for killing – the gods made me to ruin.

At the Convent of Sweet Mercy young girls are raised to be killers. In a few the old bloods show, gifting talents rarely seen since the tribes beached their ships on Abeth. Sweet Mercy hones its novices’ skills to deadly effect: it takes ten years to educate a Red Sister in the ways of blade and fist.

But even the mistresses of sword and shadow don’t truly understand what they have purchased when Nona Grey is brought to their halls as a bloodstained child of eight, falsely accused of murder: guilty of worse.

Stolen from the shadow of the noose, Nona is sought by powerful enemies, and for good reason. Despite the security and isolation of the convent her secret and violent past will find her out. Beneath a dying sun that shines upon a crumbling empire, Nona Grey must come to terms with her demons and learn to become a deadly assassin if she is to survive…

There are many things to love about this book, most of all: assassin nuns. Like, how was I supposed to not read a book about assassin nuns? Especially one that starts with one of the best first sentences ever: “It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size. For Sister Thorn of the Sweet Mercy Convent Lano Tacsis brought two hundred men.” Mark Lawrence unapologetically delivers on the premise of kickass nuns. The book is filled to the brim with wonderful strong, flawed, real women and made my heart soar.

This book follows Nona, who has been sold (or rather given away for free) to a man whose job it is to pick up children with special abilities and who delivers her into the care of a man managing a fighting club. We meet Nona when she is about to be hanged for (nearly) killing a noble son and is thankfully rescued by one of the aforementioned assassin nuns and taken into the convent.

While the first 100 pages and the last 100 pages were absolutely brilliant, I found the middle for long stretches to be too long. I am not the biggest fan of plotpoints that could have been resolved by just talking to one of the responsible adults – and the nuns have never given Nona any reason to distrust them. I also never could keep the nuns straight in my head which made some of the more emotional points a bit flat. I usually do not have to keep referring back to the glossar and the dramatis personae but I had to do that here which did take some of the enjoyment out of the book for me.

But one thing is for certain – I cannot wait to see where the story goes next because the foreshadowed events are epic without end. I am a big fan of over-powered fantasy protagonists (especially if they are women) and this series delivers on that front.

Mini-Review: I Hate Fairyland Vol. 2: Fluff my life by Skottie Young

313387211Verdict: The art is stunning, the story less so.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy, Graphic Novel

Published by Image Comics, 2016

Find it on Goodreads.

All hail Gertrude, the new Queen of Fairyland. After thirty years of wreaking havoc across this magical world to find her way back home, she must now overcome her biggest challenge yet… ruling the place she hates most. Join Gert as she continues her never-ending quest to get the FLUFF out of Fairyland. The hilariously brutal Fairytale adventure continues by superstar cartoonist SKOTTIE YOUNG.

I am currently trying to clear the unread Graphic Novels of my shelves because they are so quickly read that there is no reason they should be staring accusingly at me from my TBR shelves anymore. I enjoyed the first one in the series so much that I actually pre-ordered this – and then did not get to it until nearly two years later which is just irresponsible.

After the events of the first volume, Gertrude (still in a child’s body, still a psychopath) is a reluctant queen… And this is pretty much all there is to the plot. The book is more a series of scenes, some funny, some interesting, some really weird, all really bloody, than a complete story. And while I still appreciate the art a whole lot (there is just something satisfying about this bubblegum coloured explosion of violence), I really did not get on with the story. The jokes are repeated from the first volume, and even if I still sometimes chuckle when tiny Gertrude is being her violent self  I don’t think the funny premise can sustain the story any longer. I don’t think I will continue with the series because the reviews for the next one are not very promising. Which is a shame because I love the art so much.

 

 

Review: Foundryside (The Founders #1) by Robert Jackson Bennett

9781786487865 (4)Verdict: Slow to start, brilliant second half.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Genre: Fantasy

Published by Jo Fletcher Books, August 23rd 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

The city of Tevanne runs on scrivings, industrialised magical inscriptions that make inanimate objects sentient; they power everything, from walls to wheels to weapons. Scrivings have brought enormous progress and enormous wealth – but only to the four merchant Houses who control them. Everyone else is a servant or slave, or they eke a precarious living in the hellhole called the Commons.

There’s not much in the way of work for an escaped slave like Sancia Grado, but she has an unnatural talent that makes her one of the best thieves in the city. When she’s offered a lucrative job to steal an ancient artefact from a heavily guarded warehouse, Sancia agrees, dreaming of leaving the Commons – but instead, she finds herself the target of a murderous conspiracy. Someone powerful in Tevanne wants the artefact, and Sancia dead – and whoever it is already wields power beyond imagining.

Sancia will need every ally, and every ounce of wits at her disposal, if she is to survive – because if her enemy gets the artefact and unlocks its secrets, thousands will die, and, even worse, it will allow ancient evils back into the world and turn their city into a devastated battleground.

I am such a huge fan of Robert Jackson Bennett’s style of fantasy, I practically jumped when I realized he has a new series starting this year. This book featured prominently on my most anticipated releases list and I am happy to report that I enjoyed it a whole lot, for the most part. I have spent the better part of two weeks trying to come up with a way to review this book. I am such a huge fan of Bennett’s work and his ideas and there is in fact a lot to adore here, but I also need to be honest. It took me more than half of this book to really find my groove. It’s not like the first have is bad but my expectations were so very high. And if I didn’t have this much trust in his imagination I might have given up. I am glad I persevered because the pay off really is worth it.

What Bennett does best is creating these really unique worlds that feel lived in and plausible and very very well thought out. Here he gives us a spin on industrialized (and monopolized) magic with just the right amount of mysticism to be exciting and new. He does set up his world a little too well though in the beginning, the info-dump did start to grate and I am not sure I need to be reminded of the magic system’s rules as often as I was here (this is something that bores me in a lot of very descriptive high fantasy though, so you probably should take my opinion with a grain of salt). When everything came together though, I was very glad for him to have taken his time establishing the world because those last 50 pages? They were pure perfection. I cannot wait where this goes next.

Another thing I appreciate about Bennett’s writing is the way his female character feel properly realized and wonderfully easy to root for. I wanted Sancia to be happy so bad and I love how authentic she felt. I like that she her behaviour always made sense in relation to what we as readers know of her. Gregor on the other hand did feel for too long like a cartoon character but again, the pay off here was really worth it in the end. Bennett has really interesting things to say about agency and fate and I am so here for this.

I received this arc courtesy of NetGalley and Quercus Publishing/ Jo Fletcher Books in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World #1) by Rebecca Roanhorse

36373298Verdict: Amazing worldbuilding and seriously addictive writing.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy, I guess?

Published by Saga Press, June 26th 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters.

Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last—and best—hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel to the rez to unravel clues from ancient legends, trade favors with tricksters, and battle dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.

As Maggie discovers the truth behind the disappearances, she will have to confront her past—if she wants to survive.

Welcome to the Sixth World.

I have been excited for this book ever since I found about it – and it did not disappoint me at all. Rebecca Roanhorse has created a seriously cool, very much needed different Urban Fantasy here that makes me very excited for what is to come.

Living in a post-apocalyptic Dinétah (formerly the Navajo Reservation) where gods and demons walk the world, Maggie is a grim, lonely, super strong woman. She is a monster hunter with not much to live for, she is snarky and broken, and while I found her fairly stereotypical for the genre I also found her believable and for the most part easy to root for, which is pretty much all I ask for in my UF.

The pacing is breakneck with never a slow moment and I pretty much inhaled the book whole. But, and this is, if I am being honest, a quite big negative, I did not get along all that well with the plot, I found it in places difficult to follow, I thought the characters often were sent from A to B without it being quite clear why that was. (also, if anybody has read this, can we please talk about that ending?!)

The strongest part for me was, hands-down, the worldbuilding. It is brilliantly done, nicely woven and most of all just so very different to what I usually see. Every scene is done vividly, set in a nearly cinematic manner. The language works also really well to convey as sense of place. It is on the strength of that wonderful world that I cannot wait for the next book in the series – which will be released in about a year’s time.

Review: The Changeling – Victor LaValle

38472648Verdict: It’s complicated.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Published by Canongate, July 5th, 2018

Genre: Fairy-tale Horror.

Find it on Goodreads.

When Apollo Kagwa was just a child, his father disappeared, leaving him with recurring nightmares and a box labelled ‘Improbabilia’. Now a successful book dealer, Kagwa has a family of his own after meeting and falling in love with Emma, a librarian. The two marry and have a baby: so far so happy-ever-after. However, as the pair settle into their new lives as parents, exhaustion and anxiety start to take their toll. Emma’s behaviour becomes increasingly erratic, until one day she commits an unthinkable act, setting Apollo on a wild and fantastical quest through a suddenly otherworldly New York, in search of a wife and child he no longer recognises.

An epic novel for our anxiety-ridden times, The Changeling is a tale of parenthood, love – in its most raw and brutal form – and ultimately, humanity.

I think this book went over my head. I cannot be quite sure but I do think so. I had the overwhelming feeling of just missing something here – and I cannot quite put my finger on what that was. Bear that in mind while I try to figure out my thoughts while writing.

In this book we follow Apollo and his wife both before they meet and after they have had their son. For about a third of the book, there is some menace lurking but mostly the story is whimsical and quite lovely, until suddenly it shifts gears in the most traumatic way possible and Apollo’s life spin out of control.

This book is genre defying in a way I usually absolutely adore – it is fairy-talesque in its whimsy and its frequent re-telling of familiar stories, it is horrifying beyond measure in a way that makes It seem quaint, it is a social commentary cleverly disguised as a page turner, it is a book about family and love and trust and the lengths we can go. And writing this down makes me want to change my rating but ultimately there were long stretches here where the book lost me. I found Apollo a difficult character to root for in the single-mindedness of his approach. He reacts more than he acts (and I like how this mirrors the way Germanic fairy-tales are structured) and flip-flops in his understanding of what is going on in a way that made being so close to him frustrating.

The tonal shift I spoke about earlier first works brilliantly – the silent horror of the earlier scenes are full of foreboding and impressively rendered (I shudder to think of the first scene of Emma receiving a message that then disappears – so simple and so effective) and build the perfect crescendo to that scene (if you read the book you know which one I mean). After that the book seems to lose a bit of steam, important scenes are told in flashbacks, some strands of the story never go anywhere, and the reader is expected to go along for the ride – which sometimes worked better than other times.

I think ultimately my enjoyment or maybe sometimes lack thereof comes down to genre preference. The whole book felt so unfair. And I do not deal well with unfair. It makes me feel anxious and stressed and doesn’t compel me to pick a book up. But nevertheless, this is in parts a brilliant book, with many many clever things I will be mulling over for some time to come.

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Canongate in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

36187690Verdict: I don’t even know.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Published by Hodder & Stoughton, 2017

Genre: Fantasy, YA

Find it on Goodreads.

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

Welcome to Weep.

I am in two minds about this book: for the first 200 pages or so, I was in love. After that, not so much. Therefore, here are my thoughts, first in list form then more elaborate:

Pros:

  • Prose
  • world-building
  • Lazlo

Cons:

  • Pacing
  • Plot
  • Insta-love.

Laini Taylor has created a wonderfully vivid world here. The glimpses she provides are mesmerizing and exciting, however, I did not find that she took the world to the necessary conclusions for it to really work for me. Lazlo Strange (named that way like all other orphans with no name) is a librarian and dreamer: he has always dreamed of the unnamed city whose name has been stolen. Ridiculed and with his head in the clouds he seems set on an ordinary life when one day a convoy from that lost city arrives and his dreams of visiting become true. The world Laini Taylor conjures is brilliant but not always quite cruel enough. I could not stop comparing it to N. K. Jemisin’s Inheritance trilogy with similar themes which is much stronger. I am super intrigued to see where Laini Taylor takes her story next though and the potential for this world to become a favourite is there.

You can tell that Laini Taylor constructs her sentences with care and they are a thing of beauty; in the beginning I found the prose lush and intoxicating until suddenly it did not work for me anymore. The plot suffers from the wordiness of the prose and her pacing is off because every single little thing needs to be described with very many words. Beautiful words, as I say, but sometimes unnecessary words. I think the book would have been much stronger had it been at least 100 pages shorter.

I adore Lazlo though and loved to spend time with him; he is steadfast and loyal and most importantly kind and genuinely good in a way that characters are not often allowed to be. I adored this and my heart hurts thinking about where his story will go next.

One of my main issues will probably be only an issue for me: the book becomes romance heavy in a way that I don’t enjoy in my books. I fundamentally did not believe the progression of the love and that is a problem; especially with regards to the ending.

PS: I have also found a new pet peeve: this book’s (and the second book’s) title are used ad nauseam here and it drove me up the walls. If I have to hear either the phrase “Strange the Dreamer” or “Muse of Nightmares” one more time, I will scream.